Gallstones are a very common problem in our community. They are formed in the gallbladder when substances in the bile crystallise and gradually enlarge. Gallstones range in size from tiny gravel to the size of a golf ball.

Gallstones as seen on plain Xray Gallstones in Gallbladder

Gallstones form when there is an imbalance between substances in the bile. Certain factors make the development of gallstones more likely:

  • Women are more prone than men
  • Raised oestrogen levels from pregnancy, hormone replacement or contraceptive pills
  • Obesity
  • Cholesterol lowering drugs
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Cirrhosis
  • Certain forms of hereditary anaemia

Although most common in young to middle aged adults, gallstones may be diagnosed in a range of age groups from children to elderly people.

People with gallstones may have no symptoms at all (asymptomatic) or experience a range of potential problems such as:

  • Abdominal pain (especially after food)
  • Bloating
  • Chest or back pain
  • Complications of gallstones including infection of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), jaundice (bile duct blockage) or pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)


There are other conditions which may produce symptoms similar to gallstones such as stomach ulcers or even heart attacks – so a careful diagnosis is important.

An abdominal ultrasound is the most common test used to investigate the possibility of gallstones. Blood tests will also be necessary. At times an MRI scan, CT scan or nuclear medicine test may be needed especially if complications are suspected.

Treatment for gallstones is usually surgery to remove the gallbladder but generally asymptomatic gallstones will not need any treatment at all. If stones move out from the gallbladder and block the bile duct an ERCP (camera procedure through the mouth) may be necessary.

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